Tele Servo Bender emulates a lap steel sound using servos


July 10, 2014

The servos are controlled by a cabled foot pedal via an Arduino running custom code

The servos are controlled by a cabled foot pedal via an Arduino running custom code

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Though mostly associated with country music, there's a pretty good chance that you've heard the sweet singing tones of a lap steel guitar in whatever modern genre floats your boat. OK, maybe not techno or electronica, but certainly blues, rock, jazz and folk music. Rather than gently stroke the six to ten high action strings of an electric lap steel with a glass or metal bar though, Dean Miller opted to recreate the sound using four servos controlled by a modified foot pedal array and an Arduino running some custom code. The result is pretty astounding.

Miller (aka gr4yhound) took around two months to develop and build the Tele Servo Bender in his spare time. He first tested his idea for a servo-activated detune using a simple setup of a spare neck bolted onto a piece of ply, the Arduino, an analog servo and a breadboard, before starting work on routing the cavities in a Telecaster-shaped body. He bought a cheap bridge and bored through the screws of the saddles to allow the A, D, G and B strings to pass through.

An aluminum mounting plate for the analog servos was cut using a homemade CNC, and the cavities containing the guitar pots and switches, and the one housing the servos, shielded to help reduce noise interference. The servos were lined up with the appropriate string, which runs over a 3D-printed pulling horn to control the speed and distance of the bend.

Miller stripped out the circuitry of a keyboard sustain pedal and installed a magnet and a continuous ratiometric hall effect sensor for smooth bend control. There's one pedal for each string. He says the easiest part of the build was the creation of the code for the microcontroller, which he's made available for anyone who wants to build their own Servo Bender.

As you can see and hear in the video below, the DIY project is so convincing that you can almost feel the jaws of lap steel players dropping as Miller runs through a few tasty licks.

Source: Dean Miller

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag. All articles by Paul Ridden

Very cool device, though it is not emulating a lap steel, but rather a PEDAL steel. Keep up the fun work!

Chris DeBarge

Awesome! Pretty it up and he'll sell tons of them. While he's no slouch, you gotta wonder what a guitar master could do with one. The sound could easily move into other genre's than country or gospel.

I expect to start hearing this on recordings.

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